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Three women allegedly involved in the murder and dismembering of a 22-year-old karaoke bar worker in northeastern Thailand have fled to an autonomous region in Burma that local authorities claim is difficult to access, according to a Thai anti-drug agency.
Reports claims they may have holed up in an area under the influence of the United Wa State Army, also known as the Red Wa, or the Lahu militia group, which are major suppliers of illicit drugs.
The murder of Warisara Klinjui, whose body parts were retrieved from a makeshift grave in Khon Kaen’s Khao Suan Kwang district on 25 May, has drawn much public attention.
Preeyanuch “Preaw” Nonwangchai, 24, Kawita “Earn” Ratchada, 25, and Apiwan “Jae” Sattayabundit, 28, are now wanted on charges of premeditated murder and concealing a body. But the trio immediately fled to Burma based on immigration records at a checkpoint in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district the day the body was found.
Two other suspects, Wasin Namprom, 22, and his girlfriend Jidarat Promkhun, 21, are already in police custody. Wasin was arrested at a guesthouse in Laos and handed over to Thai police on Tuesday. Jindarat was apprehended in Ubon Ratchathani.
The secretary-general of Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), Sirinya Sitdhichai, said Thursday there is a high chance the three fugitives are in remote Burma.
“Shelter may have been given to them there,” Sirinya said. “It is possible that Ms. Preeyanuch collected money from the drug trade for a boss, who remains unknown.”
The ONCB chief said authorities are using all means to locate and bring them to justice.
The ONCB officials are in touch with their Burmese counterparts and are making use of the Safe Mekong Joint Operation to track them down, he said.
Thai army officials are also seeking cooperation with their counterparts through the ThailandMyanmar Border Township Committee (TBC) while the Mae Sai police station are also working with police in Tachileik, a border town in eastern Burma’s Shan State, he said.
Sirinya said Preeyanuch’s name is in the ONCB’s drug offence database and the agency will examine the assets belonging to the woman and her relatives to determine whether they came from the illicit business.
Police earlier said Preeyanuch throttled Warisara, covered her head with a plastic bag and beat her to death after the victim was abducted in a rented Honda CRV. They were citing a confession by Wasin, who claims he drove the car.
The trio are now believed to be hiding in an area under the control of the Red Wa or Lahu militant group after they were reportedly driven out of a karaoke bar in Tachileik on Sunday.
A security source earlier said Warisara was killed on the orders of a transnational drug network that operates on a small scale in Burma after she shared information with police implicating the syndicate and other narcotics rings in Khon Kaen.
However, Police Major-General Charoenwit Sriwanich, deputy commander of Police Region 4, said such reports were groundless and that the investigation has so far only linked them to smallscale local drug trafficking operations.
Her death may have resulted from a personal conflict after the victim informed police about their drug trafficking, which led to the arrest of Preeyanuch’s husband, who is now in prison, police said.
Meanwhile, Chiang Rai immigration chief Ekkorn Bussababodin rejected reports that Burmese authorities captured the three suspects Thursday.
He said authorities there only invited Watsak Sriwong, the owner of a spaandkaraoke shop, and its manager, Jaturong Promthong, to speak with police.
Some reports claim the three fugitives were planning to work there.
Watsak is the owner of the white Ford pick-up truck that transported the women across the border and Jaturong was the driver, police said.
The three left Thailand using temporary border passes that permit a seven-day stay. Those expired on Wednesday.
Ekkorn said the suspects have violated Burmese laws on illegal immigration, which means authorities there are able to arrest and prosecute them before deporting them.
Meanwhile, Preeyanuch’s older sister Prapasiri Somsri, 34, said her younger sibling videocalled her from Tachileik asking her to take care of her eightyear-old son in the event of her death. She also asked her older sister to finish building a house for their mother.
Prapasiri said her sister usually worked for karaoke bars overseas, including in Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and Burma.
She said her sister wed in November 2015 but the man was arrested in a drug case one month later, which Prapasiri said may have been the motive for the murder.
Police on Thursday took Wasin from a cell at Khon Kaen Provincial Court to the Khon Kaen Special Correctional Institution, where he started his 12day detention.
The court also denied a bail request by Jidarat, seeing her as a flight risk.
Police said earlier Jidarat was not involved in the killing as CCTV footage of the vehicle used in the abduction showed she was not inside.
This story was originally published by the Bangkok Post here.